Washington legislators urge Congress to block tanker deal

OLYMPIA – State legislators are storming mad Boeing lost the $35 billion air tanker contract to a confab led by its European rival.

Friday morning a House committee unanimously passed a measure urging Congress to block the Air Force from buying any aircraft until an inquiry is conducted into how the military department reached its decision.

The Air Force announced last week it will buy up to 179 tankers from a venture led by Northrop Grumman and featuring Airbus jets built by the France-based European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co.

State lawmakers said they are greatly concerned about the risk to national security of having a foreign company design and construct the U.S. military equipment.

“Do you really want somebody else building our planes?” House Minority Leader Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, asked rhetorically in a hearing on House Joint Memorial 4034.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers roundly criticized the Air Force action as they endorsed the legislative measure in the meeting of the Community &Economic Development and Trade Committee.

Rep. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, the daughter of an Air Force veteran, called the department’s decision “ill-advised” and Rep. Maralyn Chase, D-Edmonds, said “for us to outsource our defense and our defense procurement is not in the best interests of our nation.”

Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, whose district includes Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, picked her words carefully.

She said of the Air Force she did not want to “second guess or impugn their motives” but “another choice would have been a better choice.”

For lawmakers, the better choice is The Boeing Co.

House Majority Leader Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, the prime sponsor of the measure, said the makers of Airbus have not built any military aircraft.

The firm “doesn’t even have an airplane. It is on paper. It is a paper airplane,” she said.

The two-page measure praises Boeing’s history of building military aircraft and cites the economic damage from the loss of aerospace-related jobs in Washington and the rest of the country as a result of the decision.

It ignores a bit of uncomfortable history for Boeing.

There is no mention of Boeing losing a prior air tanker contract due to a tainted bid process. Boeing’s chief executive and chief financial officer resigned and a Pentagon weapons buyer went to prison as a result of the scandal

What lawmakers passed simply reads, “Efforts to halt the procurement of Boeing-made planes for the United States Air Force would prove successful and open up the contract to further bidding from foreign competitors.”

Representatives of the Aerospace Machinists, Washington State Labor Council and Aerospace Futures Alliance spoke in Friday’s hearing.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: (360) 352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com

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